Friday, 5 January 2018

136 Bethany Chapel, West Cross

136 Bethany Chapel, West Cross
Bethany Baptist Chapel in West Cross appears somewhat hidden, for it stands at the top of Bethany Lane, off Mumbles Road, rather than being in the centre of that area.  It is near what used to be Longfields Day Centre, where there is now private housing.  Bethany’s original building opened nearly 60 years before Mumbles Baptist Church, which opened in 1910 and stands prominently at the corner of Newton Road near Underhill Park.  Bethany’s first chapel was built before the centre of Mumbles developed, and houses and shops began to stretch up Newton Road.  There used to be a Mumbles Railway station at Haroldsmoor, which was conveniently almost opposite Bethany Lane, so to get to the chapel only became difficult once this was closed in 1928 when the line was electrified.
Wales’s first Baptist Church had been founded in peninsular Gower, at Ilston in 1649, by John Miles (also spelt Myles).  During the 17th century Gower had strong Puritan influences, through ministers like Marmaduke Matthews at Penmaen, Ambrose Mostyn at Pennard, as well as Miles himself at Ilston, and a leading Parliamentarian in Colonel Philip Jones of Llangyfelach.  This tradition of Reformed ministry has been continued at Bethany, which was founded in 1850 by church planter John Pugh, of Wimmerfield Farm in Killay.  He had been converted at Penclawdd’s Mount Hermon Chapel (now a roofless ruin), which became the mother church of Trinity Baptist in Penclawdd and of Tirzah in Llanmorlais.  John Pugh negotiated the lease of land at Longfields in West Cross from the Duke of Beaufort, on which to build Bethany, which he pastored before going on to establish Providence Chapel (now a private house) at Knelston.
The fellowship at Bethany (in what was then called Norton Fields) began in September 1850.  The Cambrian newspaper stated that “a monster tea party took place at the old castle of Oystermouth” in aid of funds for the chapel, and estimated that about 1,100 people participated.  The congregation soon outgrew that building, so that meetings were held in Mumbles, at the school that used to stand in Dunns Lane.  Rather than build on a different site, the present Bethany Chapel was erected adjoining the original one, which became the schoolroom, as with Trinity Presbyterian in Glanmor Park Road or Moriah Chapel in Loughor, among others.  It opened in September 1867, with the Cambrian commenting, “They have converted a small and unsightly chapel into one of the most commodious and pretty in the district, and they now have a house of God worthy of this rapidly rising watering place.” 
A manse was acquired in Lundy Drive in 1983, and the mortgage was paid off within a few years – a considerable achievement when the fellowship rarely numbered more than 50 members.  The congregation has reaped benefits from periods of long ministry – Rev. Thomas Davis ministered for 24 years until 1909, Rev. William Ham for 25 years to 1945, and current pastor Rev. Michael Leaves for 24 years to date.   Principal organist since 1983 has been Mr Robert Barnes, who serves as a deacon, and updated his 2001 history of the church for the recent anniversary.
The congregation has been outward looking, for example supporting a Morriston family engaged in mission work in Japan, and welcoming several Korean families when Derek Earl lectured at the Bible College of Wales in Derwen Fawr.  The 150th anniversary of the present building echoed the 1850 occasion by holding a Victorian Tea Party (though not a monster one) last November, raising funds for the Mumbles food bank rather than for the chapel.   
Bethany seeks to continue to proclaim God’s sovereignty amid a cynical age, without diluting the message that the Puritans proclaimed into one more acceptable to what many call a post-Christian society.  The chapel itself may not be as visible as some places of worship, but the influence and witness of its congregation is certainly not hidden.      

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